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Friday, Aug. 17, 2007

Do You Believe Mattel’s CEO?

By Holly Buchanan
August 17th, 2007

transparency gone wrongNothing tells you more about a company than how it handles a crisis.

Recently, Mattel (MAT) has had two product recalls; one for toys with lead paint, and another for toys with powerful small magnets.

Mattel chose the usual large company route: Have your CEO do a public apology, looking serious and sincere, outlining the problem and emphasizing the steps you’re taking to deal with it.

Has this approach ever worked? I’m not being cynical here, I really want to know.

Here’s why, in this case, I don’t think it worked.

It’s obviously a highly rehearsed and planned speech from CEO Robert Eckert, in a suit, sitting in a fake environment. Everything about this video screams planned, rehearsed, fake — right down to his choreographed hand movements. Maybe it’s just me, but when he says, “I’m just as upset and disappointed as anyone,” I cringe.

I’m thinking, “Yeah, because of all the money you’re gonna lose.”

Let’s put ourselves in a parent’s shoes. More specifically, let’s put ourselves in a mother’s shoes. (Dads are just as concerned but, in my marketing to women research, I’ve learned a whole lot about moms, so I’m going to focus on them.) She’s thinking, “My child may have been exposed to something that could possibly harm him. I’m not ‘disappointed’. I’m scared. I’m angry. I am downright pissed.”

“Upset”. Good word. “Disappointed”. Not so much. The word “disappointed” may work for the lawyers, but not for moms.

What’s the purpose of this video? Is it designed for shareholders and investors? Mattel is taking out ads in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA Today. This choice of WSJ and NY Times makes me wonder if this PR effort is indeed aimed at investors. If so, I would give the video higher grades.

But if this video is aimed at parents/mothers — “consumers” in corporate speak — then it could be greatly improved. Here’s how:

  1. Lose the suit. The CEO looks too formal. Who are you trying to impress? Do you feel more powerful in a suit? Come down to a more believable level. Come down to my level. (I understand that for investors the CEO needs to look serious and businesslike, and that they might take offense if he were wearing anything less than a suit. But for moms it only ads to the perception that “he’s not one of us”.)
  2. Get rid of the fake background. It’s too sterile. You look like a talking head on a set, not a real person.
  3. Use words that parents are using, not corporate double-speak. You build rapport by making people feel you’re like them; by speaking in their language. Almost nothing about this performance — and it does come across as a performance — makes me think this CEO is like me. Sure, he opens with “I’m a parent of 4,” but he looks and sounds like a CEO, not a parent. How much more effective would it be if he said, “I’m a dad with 4 kids.” And for another example, look at this phrase: “Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of children.” How much more powerful would this be if he had said “your children” or “our children” or even “our kids.”

Moms have particularly strong B.S. detectors. I’m not saying this CEO is insincere, but if he wants consumers or moms to believe in his company, they first must believe in him. I’ll let moms and dads speak for themselves as to whether this video achieved that goal.

What do you think? Can Mattel withstand transparency?

Add Your Comments

Comments (20)

  1. I agree that Eckert’s performance is weak and unconvincing. It does little good at best, and at worst, could potentially creating more damage. That’s what happens when you get a committee of PR people and lawyers together to write a script instead of the CEO taking a more natural, conversational approach.

    I do, however, believe that Mattel as a whole is sincere. They’re known to be one of the top corporate citizens and have one of the best toy safety records in the business (audio).

  2. If they lose the suite, ditch the background and change their words… it may *look* less fake and rehearsed, but is it really? Does that matter or is it only perception that matters? The advice (though I’m not criticizing it, you’re right) reminds me of Al Gore learning how to be an Alpha Male by Naomi Wolf by putting him in earth-tone suites. That was just as fake… if not more so.

  3. The problem is, as you mentioned, they are trying to satisfy both investors and target market (Moms), which couldn’t be more different. I think they could use a video as this for the shareholders, and a more relaxed one (as you mentioned) for the mom’s (which really should take priority in a situation like this)

  4. Jon Stewart did an hilarious riff on this – particularly Eckhert’s statement re they’ve produced toys in other countries and had recalls on those too…Jon, “Yeah, and you shoulda seen the crap we produced there!”

    And, my pet peeve – why should the talking points be different for Wall Street than they are for Main (or Elm, or Oak, or) Street? I’m really tired of companies pandering to the financial Gods, when it’s, in fact, the little people who make those numbers.

  5. Well said. But regardless of how he dressed or released the statement, I would still be really pissed off. I know that all these corporations are after is money; they can care less who they trample in the process. I’m a mother and if my child was put in harms way because of some stupid toy, all hell would break loose. And a stupid, formal, fake apology will NOT cut it.

  6. I watched the CEO on the “Today” show yesterday morning, and kept ranting at the TV about how old-fashioned his whole appearance was. To me, it was completely inauthentic and as muddy as you can get. He never really did take responsibility for the lax procedures that led up to this parental nightmare – just kept repeating that Mattel will be “testing all batches of products.” Well hey – what does that mean for future manufacturing? Still gonna use the same company in China?

    Apologies without true remorse or solutions for the future aren’t worth squat.

  7. A few points to add to what has already been said:

    To me this is just another example of the big generation gap, which now that I think about it, is not just a generation gap, but a new media, authenticity gap.

    Part of it is the guy is obviously not comfortable in front of a camera. They might have done better with a really creative PR firm/consultant, but…

    The problem with the generation gap between boomers and X/millenials is that the boomers still have all the power and money, and they don’t seem to be easily convinced to let go of all that traditional stuff.

    But until you take a leap, you never know how it will happen. You have to experience positive feedback from a new approach before you REALLY believe it.

  8. I saw him on AM tv… he tried to “relate” to the hostess “you and I both have children Elizabeth”. The bigger question is this: Does Mattel have an ethical obligation to it’s customers? What cost should Mattel bear to support this obligation?

    As a parent and a person: Mattel MUST fund and be ever vigilant regarding the safety of it’s customers.

  9. If you screw up on the level that Mattel just did, you better come back and really relate to those people who you did harm to. Just because no kids died, doesnt mean they are not slowly getting lead based cancer or any other thing that may be happening due to the dangerous carcinogens in the products.

    Parents trust in these companies to put their kids safety first will be the first thing to go, and moms have a long memory. So the suit and fake talk and especially how he (translated into “the company” for this video) didn’t even sound like they were upset and angry and ready to get to the bottom of it and make sure this kind of thing never happened again, which they really should have been, was very telling. If he had come out in all types of media that moms watch really “speaking” to them, it would have made all the difference in the world.

  10. All you have to do is compare the Mattel apology to David Neeleman’s (CEO of JetBlue) to see the difference.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r_PIg7EAUw

  11. Sorry I am not convinced at all, either by his talk or their company story.

    This shows totally lax procedures for a company operating at this level of business. I might expect it in some mom and pop operation but not one the size of Mattel.

    Have they never heard of putting their own agents inside these plants that work for them, report to them and are responsible to them. Many are blaming the Chinese, but I think this company and it’s CEO are at least equally responsible.

    At this level you make sure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed – even if they are in Chinese.

    Bill

  12. The problem is they keep wanting cheap labor so they can make more money. so thy see what they get,cheap labor overseas then cheap products,poorly made and dangerous products. If matel would bring their manufacturing companies to America and pay Americans very well they wouldn’t have this problem. but they don’t want to pay higher salaries. so this is what americans are stuck with cheaply made toys that are a danger to children.

  13. We have seen part of their apology in Europe as well, the Netherlands in this case. I’ve worked for and with factories in China for over 13 years. The key to overseas manufacturing or OEM manufacturing is to keep the problems, if any, at the factory. In this case we where shown a factory with a Mattel logo on the outside wall. That made it in my eyes even worse.

    For issues with excessive chemical agents against bugs and so on, often this is a problem not even cause by the factory but by harbour personal that have instructions to spray all goods but have really no proper equipment, instruction, materials and so on. In that case the damage is done after the pre-shipment inspection. This means incoming quality control is always required. Always.

    Now it does seem that all quality issues are there because of China. I think that is not correct. They seem to be linked to China because so many goods are produced there. But most products in China are made to order. Made to order and made to budget.

    It’s like golf. Rule number 1, keep the head down. Rule number 2, keep the ****ing head down. Quality control basic principles are simple as well. Check Check Check Check Check Check. Most often quality is skipped because of price pressure but it is always coming back. A Chinese saying says in Chinglish “cheap no quality, quality no cheap”

    Some learn the hard way.

  14. [...] Read More: Consumerist: Chinese Poison Train: Mattel CEO’s Online Video Apology Holly Buchanan, GrokDotCom: Do You Believe Mattel’s CEO? [...]

  15. Or, there is a reason the cheap crap is so cheap and the expensive crap is so crappy…

  16. Ok, I don’t see anyone else saying it but… why are they discovering this issue NOW? In his speech, he says they will make sure the toys don’t have these problems, but… why did they wait till now to install quality control? Where was it before????

  17. He doesn’t look and act like us because he is not like us. Take a look at the Security and Exchange Commission’s Edgar website and look him up. He and his “four children” have made a very substantial amount of money making his poison toys for our kids. You were very right when you said that “disappointed” was a legal term. His speech has “legal team” written all over it. Bob is upset because he got caught. His focus is safety because he got caught. I’m glad this jerk is not like us!!

  18. I have to agree. Rehearsed, choreographed … another suit trying to keep his job and look like he is in charge. It is unfortunate that PR thinks parents are shallow enough to buy this “story” – give us credit. This performance is likely what the legal damage control team wants and has little to do with the affected parties. This performance just reinforces the sterotypical view of command and control leadership.

  19. I don’t belive because I work close with them,
    They try to hide that their approval supplier have ahd problem even both paint and component supplier,
    I must told everybody here in mainland china about 200~300 conatiner cannot ship out due to can not comply with CPSC equirment,
    Second wonder was last year they recall polly due to Magnet issue why they don’t recall 2002 produce prodcut together,
    Some item we check in Mattel QC report web that cannot find out which factory produce. In here only the reason is the factory own by Mattel in China……………………Tom

  20. Mattel has to stop dealing with China until they have laws regulating their products – that is the problem.

    As for your demand that Eckert take off his business suit – that is ridiculous. He is the CEO. He wears suits. That’s life. What shold he wear? Overalls? Do you want him to stop shaving and take off his Gucci shoes and his necktie on the air and drop them in a garbage can to prove he is just a regular guy? I don’t want CEOs pretending to be “one of the people”. I do want them to to do their jobs.

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at http://marketingtowomenonline.typepad.com She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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